Many who begin to read or study the Bible quickly run across certain problems. Among the typical challenges are the confusing or "boring" verses we encounter. 'Why is this in here? Who needs all these "begats" or other difficult parts? What is the purpose or importance of this sentence or paragraph or chapter in the Bible?' Questions such as these are common and understandable, and sometimes even Biblical 'veterans' can encounter similar problems.
Let's start with facts that will help you better understand the seemingly strange verses
encountered in Scripture.
The Apostle Paul taught us that "All Scripture is inspired of God, and is useful for teaching, for reproof, correction, and training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16). This means, among other things, that even those "strange" or "vague" verses can teach us something useful or interesting.
"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets. In these last days, He spoke to us through a Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe." (Hebrews 1:1-2). This insightful Bible passage reveals that God's Word to man in the Old Testament period was 'partial', and that He spoke in 'various' ways. Some of those ways are literal, others poetic, symbolic, mystical and so forth. Study tips will
follow, but first...
Perhaps the best place to begin is with ourselves. We live in a certain age, and in our culture, we have a language that is subject to changes in meaning for words. Perhaps you remember when the
word "gay" in the 1950's meant "happy", by the 1980's, it had become an expression identifying someone as homosexual. The point is the reader should consider the historic and cultural viewpoint of the writer in order to understand what the writer wanted to say.
Let's look at an example: "In the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priest-hood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God was spoken to John son of Zachariah in the desert." (Luke 3:1-2).
Now many candid readers would admit that's a mouthful! But it is not uncommon in Scripture; in fact, it would be easier than some verses. Still, why is it in the Bible? What was Luke trying to tell us?
To begin understanding a verse like this, you must consider the way we date things. For centuries now, we date world events according to "A.D. 1996 " or "6 B.C." The "B.C." means "before Christ", or before His birth. "A.D." is short for the Latin "Anno Domini", meaning "in the year of our Lord", or after Christ's birth. So we have the benefit of a common historical point, Christ's birth, to refer to in dating events. But in Luke's time, and in the Old Testament period, that was not yet the case! So other ways had to be found to date events.
In ancient times, a common method of dating was to list the names of some prominent figures. This is exemplified in the verses we read from Luke's Gospel. Since the writer could safely assume that people during his lifetime and for years afterwards would know a prominent political figure, dating according to a persons' term in office was typically used. It would be like dating something by referring to the presidency of George Bush, which would limit you to a 4 year period of time. Using the ancient method, one could further focus a modern date by saying: "During the Presidency of George Bush, and while the war in the Persian Gulf was being directed from Washington by General Colin Powell" which would limit the time frame to January and February of 1991.
||GODS HOLY WORD:
Let Us Open Our Minds & Hearts
to a Better Love & Appreciation
For His Mysteries & Messages
Shared With Us In Scripture.
In Luke's passage, "Caesar", "procurator" and "tetrarch" were Roman terms for various officials, starting with the highest, the Roman Emperor (or "Caesar"), and the others were lesser local
officials. Judea, Ituraea and Trachonitis' are place names in the Holy Lands. Such facts were well known in Luke's time. But today, we need some background to grasp Luke's way of setting the date and location for his narrative. In fact, Luke's information allows modern scholars to pin point the period for the start of John's mission to the years A.D. 27 - 29.
But there is much more we can learn from this passage than just a date. Luke was preparing to show his readers the marvels of God's ways of dealing with man.
In our times, we tend to think of people like George Bush and Colin Powell (presidents and head of the military) as important men. We may not agree with them, or share their views, but most people know their names and recognize they had power and influence over others.
The same was true for Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod and Philip in Luke 3:1. They were men of considerable power! They lived in luxury, had people waiting on their commands, wore fine robes and personal adornments. But who was John the Baptizer? He was the poor son of a priest, a "wild looking man" who wore rough clothes. John didn't hob-knob with the elite or leaders. Nor did he live in the local palace eating quiche or caviar. He ate wild locusts instead. So while
the powerful "rich and famous" men in John the Baptizer's time were busily ordering others, the Word of God was bestowed on this humble man in the desert. What a beautifully poetic contrast! God honored the humble, and He raised that lowly desert-dweller into the pages of salvation history. Truly, God's ways are not man's ways (cf. Is. 55:9)!
Luke's passage exemplifies what is really important in life: not the luxury of the passing things which Tiberius had, but the pursuit of everlasting life which John was graced with through Jesus, our Savior.
Another case of "obscure" Scriptures are the genealogies found throughout the Old and New Testaments, such as Luke 3:23-38, Matthew 1:1-17, or Genesis chapter 36. What's the big deal, we may wonder, about who "begat" (was the father of) whom?
These genealogies, are after all, family trees. Many people in our times spend long hours researching their family lineage. Just as it is important to some today, so it has been since the time of Genesis. Understandably, we may not be as excited reading about another's family history as we would be about our own. Still, there are more reasons for these genealogies, as you'll see.
These family trees were also used for historical and dating purposes. Geneologies demonstrate the importance God places on family. But a key factor is to prove to the reader that God keeps His Promises.
For example, in Matthew's genealogy we notice Jesus came from the house of David, as was prophesied many times in the Old Testament. Man may grow impatient, but God's Promises are fulfilled!
Matthew's genealogy is also a 'coded' literary message, built up of three groups of 14 generations. The number 'three' is symbolic of the Trinity. In ancient times, letters were also used for numbers. In Hebrew, David's name, DVD, mathematically yielded the number 14. So three 14's was meant to convey the mysterious ways of God.
It's been said that praying is talking to God, and reading the Bible is listening to the Lord. So understanding the importance of seemingly obscure passages can be enlightening and even fun, if we properly prepare ourselves to seek His meanings. It can be a like a "detective" story, trying to discover God's messages for man. There are often many things to ponder in even a single verse, a source for prayerful meditation. We shouldn't read the Bible the way we do a newspaper! But you'll find that Scripture reading is interesting, uplifting and eye-opening, so give it a try!
The use of an affordable study Bible, such as the New American Bible ('NAB') helps. It has maps, photos, charts, a modern English translation by an inter-faith panel of scholars; and the footnotes clarify otherwise difficult passages.
Learn His Saving Truth!